February 2, 2023

What Is Priority Mail? | Full Guide

The United States Postal Service offers several options for mailing items, and one of the most popular options is Priority Mail. What is Priority Mail? This shipping method allows senders...

The United States Postal Service offers several options for mailing items, and one of the most popular options is Priority Mail. What is Priority Mail? This shipping method allows senders and recipients to track the progress of their mail, and it also offers an expedited shipping time of one to three business days.

These benefits make it a more affordable alternative to shipping services such as FedEx and UPS, but there are a few things you should know before you count on Priority Mail as your primary shipping method.

Read on to discover the history of Priority Mail and learn how Priority Mail is shipped. This information from FirstMile can help you decide whether this shipping method is the right option for your needs — or whether a different shipping solution may be the better option.

What Is Priority Shipping?

The history of Priority Shipping can be traced back to the Post Office and the Postal Act of 1792. Signed into law by George Washington, this act established the USPS as we know it and stipulated that certain kinds of mail may incur lower postage than other types of mail. This condition hinged on the idea that the mail in question would offer some form of societal benefit.

Newspapers were some of the first items to fully take advantage of this allowance, but it wasn’t long before other organizations wanted in on these reduced rates, too. A class structure of postage rates was thus introduced in 1894.

The USPS evolved continuously until 1968 when Priority Mail was formally introduced. It quickly became a more affordable alternative to Priority Mail Express, and it was a popular product for businesses and individuals alike. This popularity continued to grow as USPS continuously expanded its range of shipping receptacles that were designed for Priority Mail.

The Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope, for example, debuted in 1991 and the Priority Mail Flat Rate Box was introduced in 2004. The latter now sees as many as 12 million units shipped in a single month, and more than 350 million of these parcels have been shipped since their introduction. There are many reasons why Priority Mail is likely so popular, including the following:

  • Typically no surcharges or additional fees to send.
  • Contents often do not need to be weighed.
  • Packaging supplies are free and widely available.
  • High-volume shippers can get commercial discounts.

These traits make Priority Mail a great option for many purposes. If you’re wondering if the priority mail service is the best shipping service for your business, though, there’s still more to consider.

How To Mail Priority Mail

How is Priority Mail shipped? This is an important question, but it’s often overlooked when considering different shipping methods. As the fastest mail class available from the USPS, Priority Mail uses some of the most efficient shipping methods in the industry, including air travel, and in some cases, ground travel.

Typically, though, a Priority Mail item will only ship via ground if the sender and recipient’s locations are within close proximity. USPS’s use of air travel allows guaranteed delivery times of three business days while still keeping postage rates relatively low for consumers.

How do you mail an item via Priority Mail, then? The process is simple, and you have two options:

First, you can choose to pick up a special Priority Mail package or envelope that will alert USPS personnel that you intend to send your item via Priority Mail. These shipping materials are available online and in post offices, too — and they are completely free. If you use one of these to pack your mail, you will not be able to send it via any other shipping method. Pack your mail, take it to your local post office, and ship it via priority.

In some instances, though, you might not want to use the shipping materials that USPS provides for Priority Mail. If so, you can use your preferred packaging materials and still ship the item via Priority Mail. The mail will feature a sticker alerting handlers that the item is Priority.

It’s important to note, though, that you cannot use your own packaging materials if you want to ship the item via Flat Rate Priority Mail. In this case, you will need to use one of the Flat Rate Packages or Flat Rate Envelopes.

The phrase “Priority Mail” is often used interchangeably with the phrases “Priority Mail Express” and “First Class Mail.” Conflating these terms is incorrect, though, as they each refer to a unique service that the USPS offers. What is Priority shipping, and what kind of mail fits the criteria?

Priority Mail is faster than First Class, and it’s particularly advantageous for senders who need to send larger packages — up to 70 lbs — in an expedited time frame. Priority Mail’s Flat Rate Packages make it possible to do this for a single set fee.

There are a few other criteria that Priority Mail must meet, including the following:

  • Combined length and girth of a package cannot exceed 108 inches.
  • Packages with a length greater than 22 inches incur an additional fee of $4.00 to $15.00.
  • Most Priority Mail items must not exceed dimensions of 27 x 17 x 17.

If your mail item does not meet these criteria, you may still be able to send it with additional fees. Consult your local post office to see if they will allow you to ship the item — and if so, how much it will cost. In some cases, even if USPS can ship an item via Priority Mail, it may be faster and more affordable to go with a different shipping option.

Any mail item that does meet these criteria, though, is eligible for Priority Mail postage. USPS maintains these criteria because all mail must be machinable. This means that any item of mail that is sent via USPS — whether it’s Priority Mail or another shipping option — must be able to safely pass through the USPS’s handling machinery. Oversized packages are generally non-machinable, which may lead to additional fees or rejection of the parcel.

Does Priority Mail Need a Stamp?

You might wonder whether Priority Mail packages require a stamp, and in most cases, the answer is no. When you ship a piece of mail via Priority Mail, the item will generally receive a sticker indicating the postage amount that you’ve paid. You can get this sticker by visiting your local post office or by ordering postage online.

In either case, the sticker will replace stamps, so you won’t need to add any additional postage. If you would prefer to pay for your Priority Mail postage with stamps, though, it’s certainly still an option.

You can calculate the cost of shipping and then affix stamps to the mail to cover the cost. You should note, though, that your mail may be returned to you if you miscalculate the postage costs. You should also know that USPS requires packages that weigh more than 13 oz to be sent with assistance from a clerk if postage is paid with stamps.

Before you stick a bunch of stamps on your mail, then, you should consider whether it’s a better option to simply pay for postage at your local post office. In many cases, this is more reliable and convenient than trying to pay for postage with stamps.

How Much Is Priority Mail?

What is Priority Mail pricing? For many consumers, the biggest appeal of Priority Mail is the price. Priority Mail is notoriously cheaper than many other shipping methods, and it’s an especially great value for expedited shipping.

To fully understand Priority pricing, though, you should consider the following factors:

  • Except for Flat Rate Priority Mail, USPS calculates Priority Mail rates based on the distance of the mail route and the weight of the item.
  • Regional and prepaid pricing options are also available on some items.

Although Priority Mail is generally an affordable option, prices can still vary widely. You can use the USPS postage calculator to estimate your cost.

Rates for Priority Mail are typically as follows:

  • Starting at $9.00 for letters, parcels, and large envelopes shipped at a Post Office.
  • Starting at $7.62 for letters, parcels, and large envelopes shipped via Commercial Base or Commercial Plus.
  • Starting at $8.63 for Priority Mail Regional Rate® Boxes.

Rates for Priority Mail Express® are as follows:

  • Starting at $27.25 for letters, parcels, and large envelopes shipped at a Post Office.
  • Starting at $23.75 for letters, parcels, and large envelopes shipped via Commercial Base or Commercial Plus.

These rates reflect USPS’s most current published prices, but these prices may change or be subject to additional fees. Paying for a Priority Mail Regional Rate® Box at a post office may incur an additional charge, for example, due to the additional handling expense.

Although these prices are still reasonable for most consumers, they may not be the right option for everybody. If you are an eCommerce entrepreneur, for example, you might be able to find faster shipping solutions from a different shipping partner. In many cases, a third-party shipping provider may be more reliable than the USPS, too — especially if you choose a partner that is experienced in handling shipping for returns management, multi-carrier shipping, and order fulfillment.

This kind of service may be able to save your business time and money in the long run. More importantly, better shipping services mean that your customer satisfaction rates will go up — a win-win for everybody.

What Is Priority Shipping for Businesses and Individuals?

USPS has rolled out some of the most innovative and successful mail solutions in the world. The Priority Mail system is certainly among its most successful offerings, so it’s no wonder why so many people choose this shipping method for their needs. A little bit of research will reveal, though, that Priority Shipping rates can get pricey fast, and sometimes it’s not the best solution.

Partnering with a provider like FirstMile offers more attentive care and more personalized service for your business or personal needs. Find out how we can simplify your company's shipping processes and save you money while doing so. Give us a call at (888) 993-8594 or Contact Us for more information.